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Farmstead, a grocery startup with a focus on software, raises $7.9M

2020, November 19 - 2:27am

Farmstead, a startup that operates an online grocery business while also selling software to other grocers, is announcing that it has raised $7.9 million in Series A funding.

While there’s been plenty of demand for grocery delivery this year, the major players like Instacart are making purchases and deliveries from existing supermarkets. Farmstead co-founder and CEO Pradeep Elankumaran said that this model puts a big constraint on the number of possible deliveries, which is why you may be struggling to get a delivery slot.

There have been fewer success stories around the Farmstead approach, where a company sells groceries from its own warehouse (and in Farmstead’s case, employs its own warehouse staff and drivers).

In fact, Elankumaran said that when the company started in 2016, “The warehouse model was incredibly unattractive to everyone else,” because of the operational headaches and expenses.

To address these issues, Elankumaran said Farmstead has built software to “re-orchestrate” warehouse operations and make them more efficient. The startup says it’s been able to reduce food waste by 3-4x, while also serving thousands of orders per day across a 50-mile radius, with no delivery fees, from each warehouse “hub.” In fact, in the startup’s first market of San Francisco, Farmstead is supposedly “marching towards profitability, and we’re very close at this point.”

Image Credits: Farmstead

Next up: Geographic expansion, starting in North Carolina, with Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham (where Farmstead just opened its wait list). Elankumaran said he’s hoping to launch between 15 and 30 new markets in the next 12 months.

“A better way of putting it is: Two years ago we were not ready [to expand], and right now we are ready,” he said.

In addition, Farmstead has started selling its Grocery OS software to other grocery businesses that want to move online. Elankumaran said that in some cases, the grocer may simply buy the software, while in others, Farmstead could also work with them to operate the warehouse. Either way, he said the key is the need to “fork the demand,” so that offline shoppers are going to one store, while online orders are being fulfilled from a separate location.

“You cannot get this industry online unless the capacity increases,” he said.

Elankumaran also said that while it can cost $10 million of dollars to open a new supermarket location, Farmstead can launch a hub in four to six weeks, at a cost of $100,000.

As for whether grocery stores have any hesitation about buying software from a potential competitor, Elankumaran said that the opposite is true — they trust Farmstead more because of “the fact that we’re not a B2B software company that has not operated a grocery store.”

Farmstead has now raised a total of $14.7 million. The Series A was led by Aidenlair Capital, with participation from Y Combinator, Gelt VC, Duro, Maple VC, Heron Rock, 19 York, Red Dog Capital and others.

Farmstead is an ambitious grocery delivery startup with plans to defeat Instacart

Categories: Business News

Abacus.AI raises another $22M and launches new AI modules

2020, November 19 - 2:00am

AI startup RealityEngines.AI changed its name to Abacus.AI in July. At the same time, it announced a $13 million Series A round. Today, only a few months later, it is not changing its name again, but it is announcing a $22 million Series B round, led by Coatue, with Decibel Ventures and Index Partners participating as well. With this, the company, which was co-founded by former AWS and Google exec Bindu Reddy, has now raised a total of $40.3 million.

Abacus co-founder Bindu Reddy, Arvind Sundararajan and Siddartha Naidu. Image Credits: Abacus.AI

In addition to the new funding, Abacus.AI is also launching a new product today, which it calls Abacus.AI Deconstructed. Originally, the idea behind RealityEngines/Abacus.AI was to provide its users with a platform that would simplify building AI models by using AI to automatically train and optimize them. That hasn’t changed, but as it turns out, a lot of (potential) customers had already invested into their own workflows for building and training deep learning models but were looking for help in putting them into production and managing them throughout their lifecycle.

“One of the big pain points [businesses] had was, ‘look, I have data scientists and I have my models that I’ve built in-house. My data scientists have built them on laptops, but I don’t know how to push them to production. I don’t know how to maintain and keep models in production.’ I think pretty much every startup now is thinking of that problem,” Reddy said.

Image Credits: Abacus.AI

Since Abacus.AI had already built those tools anyway, the company decided to now also break its service down into three parts that users can adapt without relying on the full platform. That means you can now bring your model to the service and have the company host and monitor the model for you, for example. The service will manage the model in production and, for example, monitor for model drift.

Another area Abacus.AI has long focused on is model explainability and de-biasing, so it’s making that available as a module as well, as well as its real-time machine learning feature store that helps organizations create, store and share their machine learning features and deploy them into production.

As for the funding, Reddy tells me the company didn’t really have to raise a new round at this point. After the company announced its first round earlier this year, there was quite a lot of interest from others to also invest. “So we decided that we may as well raise the next round because we were seeing adoption, we felt we were ready product-wise. But we didn’t have a large enough sales team. And raising a little early made sense to build up the sales team,” she said.

Reddy also stressed that unlike some of the company’s competitors, Abacus.AI is trying to build a full-stack self-service solution that can essentially compete with the offerings of the big cloud vendors. That — and the engineering talent to build it — doesn’t come cheap.

Image Credits: Abacus.AI

It’s no surprise then that Abacus.AI plans to use the new funding to increase its R&D team, but it will also increase its go-to-market team from two to ten in the coming months. While the company is betting on a self-service model — and is seeing good traction with small- and medium-sized companies — you still need a sales team to work with large enterprises.

Come January, the company also plans to launch support for more languages and more machine vision use cases.

“We are proud to be leading the Series B investment in Abacus.AI, because we think that Abacus.AI’s unique cloud service now makes state-of-the-art AI easily accessible for organizations of all sizes, including start-ups,” Yanda Erlich, a p artner at Coatue Ventures  told me. “Abacus.AI’s end-to-end autonomous AI service powered by their Neural Architecture Search invention helps organizations with no ML expertise easily deploy deep learning systems in production.”

 

RealityEngines.AI becomes Abacus.AI and raises $13M Series A

Deci raises $9.1M to optimize AI models with AI

Categories: Business News

Nestlings wants to help international students navigate a messy higher-ed environment

2020, November 19 - 1:52am

The admissions process for international students applying to colleges is outdated. For starters, there is no Common App, the one-stop application that U.S. students are able to use to apply to a variety of schools in one go. Instead, international students must navigate thousands of schools, each having their own requirements and application process, on a one by one basis.

It’s a time-consuming and convoluted process, which is exactly where Nestlings, a Cupertino, California-based startup, comes in. Founded by Sowmya Satish, a former Apple product manager, and her husband, Raj Basavaraju, the startup is hoping to streamline the college admissions journey for international students.

Nearly 15 years ago, Basavaraju left Bangalore to pursue his master’s degree at Glasgow Caledonian University.

“When I was looking to study, I was not able to find a proper course, proper program, and I didn’t find much support,” he said. “It was not easy for me to get all the information I needed, like how safe it was, the lifestyle, and all of those things that are actually very important information.” So, he had the idea to put the information online and make it more accessible for other students who were interested in studying abroad.

At its core, Nestlings is a platform to help international students browse colleges in the United States, U.K., and Canada and apply to multiple colleges with one application. Beyond this service, Nestlings wants to help connect students to mentors in their potential fields to help with advice along the way, as well as place Nestlings students into post-graduate employment opportunities.

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“Our goal is to help students build their career, not just be an admissions portal,” said Satish.

Nestlings is essentially itching to be part of a student’s entire professional life, from the moment they decide to pursue higher education to the jobs they apply to during and after graduation.

Nestlings, like any college recruitment platform, is only as successful as how many students use the platform. For that reason, Nestlings has made its service free for students, and instead charges fees to its partners, both universities and employers, whenever it places a student in one of those groups. The business works as a two-sided marketplace; it scales its students through word of mouth, and its institutions by promising recruitment results.

So far, Nestlings has more than 30,000 students on its platform. It has partnered with over 180 universities, and, more recently, signed a non-exclusive partnership with one of the largest testing centers in Southeast Asia. The testing center is part of Nestlings’ strategy to bring in more students without paying an agent fee or having to advertise.

As an early-stage startup, Nestlings has a huge competitor: ApplyBoard, which recently raised $75 million at a $1.4 billion valuation. ApplyBoard similarly helps international students navigate the abroad college application process, but is a massively bigger company in the late stage. The business did not immediately respond to request for comment on its thoughts about Nestlings.

Edtech’s newest unicorn, ApplyBoard, lands $1.4B valuation with fresh funding

Still, Nestlings is hoping to win by focusing its business more broadly on student success than simply college admissions. The focus is partly why Nestlings acquired AdmitAlly, a Cincinnati-based video chat platform that matches students with mentors and college applicants with current students.

“Especially in the pandemic, we didn’t want to waste time reinventing the wheel and saw an opportunity to fold the technology into Nestlings’ existing offerings quickly,” Satish said of the acquisition. “International recruiting is going to be tough this admissions cycle, as students can’t visit campuses and recruiters cannot travel abroad.”

AdmitAlly, which was founded by Anu Vora, was sold for an undisclosed price. However, as part of the deal, Vora became both a board director at Nestlings and, separately, an investor in the startup. In tandem with running AdmitAlly, Vora runs an investment firm and incubator, Candid Ventures. She put $1.5 million into the company in seed funding.

As higher education faces its own renovation from low enrollment and remote schooling, Nestlings is still betting on a long-term vision where international students will crave a United States education. The strategy will only pay off if that remains true.

Will edtech empower or erase the need for higher education?

 

Categories: Business News

Jinx launches a text-to-buy dog food platform, with help from Initialized Capital

2020, November 19 - 1:39am

Jinx is launching a simple way to buy dog food and manage orders via text message.

The startup says it has developed “the first text-to-buy platform in the legacy pet food space,” in partnership with its investor Initialized Capital and the firm’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian (who departed earlier this year and is raising a new fund).

Jinx CEO Terri Rockovich told me that while Jinx’s most important differentiator is creating kibble and treats that are healthier and better-suited to modern dog lifestyles, the increasing competitiveness of the dog food market means that it’s also important to rethink the broader consumer experience.

“As a brand that’s committed to redefine dog nutrition … we’re required to go above and beyond in delivering a really unparalleled customer experience,” Rockovich said.

And that includes offering an easy shopping experience on our phones. Jinx provided a demo in which a user could starts a dog food purchase on the startup’s mobile website, enters their phone number for text updates, then confirms their purchase via text.

Former Casper execs are building a direct-to-consumer dog food startup called Jinx

Rockovich added that since the startup’s general launch earlier this year, she’s seen subscriptions as increasingly central to Jinx’s business. (For example, a two-pound a bag of Jinx’s salmon, brown rice and sweet potato kibble normally costs $15, but you save 10% if you sign up for shipments every three weeks.)

And while the initial rollout of text-to-buy functionality is focused on the basic purchase experience, Jinx will be adding subscription management features next week, so that subscribers can make adjustments in a “seamless” way.

“We could send a push notification that says, ‘Hey, your order is going to ship in a week and arrives in a week and a half, do you want to add this product?'” Rockovich said. “Or if you want to pause your subscription indefinitely because you’re going on vacation, it’s so easy to do that via text.”

And because the underlying platform was built with Initialized, it can be used across the firm’s startup portfolio. Rockovich said the technology puts “a lot of automation at your disposal,” with chatbots that can tap into a business’ existing content library and FAQ, while also handing the conversation over to human agents when necessary.

In a statement, Ohanian said:

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the DTC e-commerce space and as a product-builder my whole career, realized I could build a better system for all the companies in our portfolio and that there’d be no better partner to launch it than Jinx, who have consistently been at the cutting edge of the industry. [Although] there are many plug and play text-to-buy options available in the marketplace, our goal was to create a proprietary technology that offered convenience and personalization to Jinx’s customers and allowed us to hone in on consumer findings that would be valuable to all our portfolio brands.

Dog food startup Sundays launches its air-dried kibble alternative

 

Categories: Business News

Bella is a new challenger bank with a text-based interface

2020, November 19 - 12:23am

Meet Bella, a new challenger bank launching on November 30th. The company is trying to differentiate itself with two distinctive features. First, you can interact with the app using keywords and text commands. Second, Bella is trying to build a community that helps each other to differentiate its product from soulless monolithic banking services.

Let’s start with the basics. When you open a Bella account, you receive a rainbow debit card that works on the Visa network. You get a checking account as well as the ability to create savings accounts. Behind the scenes, Bella works with nbkc bank for the banking infrastructure. Accounts are FDIC insured up to $5 million.

Your card works with Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. There are no foreign transaction fees and Bella reimburses all ATM fees. There are no account minimums and service fees either.

Image Credits: Bella

But the app doesn’t look like your average banking app. There’s a text field at the bottom of the screen at all times. If you tap that field and enter a keyword, you can do all the interactions you’d expect to do. That feature is called Socratex.

This isn’t a chatbot, it’s more like a command line interface. For instance, if you type “Send”, it’ll suggest “Send money”. You can then enter an amount and hit next. After that, you can type the name of a contact, or add a contact, and then hit send.

You don’t have to find the right menu and hit the right button. The app tries to guide you so that you can construct a full sentence describing your intent. Bella uses LivePerson for that text-based interface. LivePerson is also Bella’s strategic backer.

Image Credits: Bella

And then, there is the Karma account. Over a hundred years ago in Naples, people started ordering two espressos and drinking just one. The second one would be a caffè sospeso. A poor person could ask for a caffè sospeso later that day and get a free coffee.

Bella is basically doing the same thing with its Karma account. Users can deposit up to $20 into a personal Karma account. Another user could use its Bella card and get a notification saying that their purchase is covered by someone else’s Karma account.

Similarly, Bella is introducing a randomized cashback program. The company randomly picks purchases and sends you back 5 to 200% in cashback.

When it comes to savings accounts, you can open as many savings accounts as you want and set some unconventional rules. For instance, you can set up a rule that puts some money aside when it’s sunny, when your sports team is winning, etc.

As you can see, Bella wants to introduce some randomized events so that you get surprised by your own bank account. The company wants to give back $1 million in cashback over the first four weeks on the market. Let’s see if that could turn the financial service into a viral experience.

Categories: Business News

Kerry Washington backs jewelry startup Aurate

2020, November 19 - 12:21am

Actress Kerry Washington has made an investment of undisclosed size in direct-to-consumer jewelry startup Aurate.

This isn’t the first time Washington has gotten involved in startups — she’s also backed The Wing, Community and Byte. In fact, when we asked her about her dream investment at Disrupt in September, she hinted at a new deal that “feels pretty dreamy.”

When I brought up those comments earlier this week, Washington laughed and confirmed that Aurate is exactly what she’d been thinking about. In addition to providing funding, Washington also collaborated with the company to create The Lioness Collection, which features two of Aurate’s bestselling gold chains bonded together as both a necklace and a bracelet, along with hoop earrings and a pendant inspired by the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet.

Washington was excited about Aurate’s goals of sustainability (its gold comes from sustainable sources) and making fine jewelry more affordable. Plus, she said, “I love working with female founders,” to the extent that she and Aurate founders Sophie Kahn and Bouchra Ezzahraoui have become “our own lioness tribe.”

“I was inspired by the themes of what the lioness means, how lionesses operate, how the lionesses hunt together and nurture their cubs together,” she added. “There’s no hierarchy among lionesses … They are fierce and ambitious but they also take care of each other.”

Image Credits: Aurate

And while the average price point of Aurate jewelry is $300, pricing for items in the Lioness Collection starts at around $150, with 20% of the proceeds going to women’s activist group Supermajority.

Kahn recalled “countless Zoom conversations” with Washington to develop the collection, while Ezzahraoui said that the team has been talking to her for the past three years — it took a while to make sure everyone was “aligned philosophically” and to figure out the right partnership.

“Aurate is style and substance and Kerry is style and substance,” Kahn said. “She’s also an activist, she cares and has a voice. That’s why it was such a perfect fit.”

Also worth noting: Aurate’s business continues to grow during the pandemic, and the startup is now profitable. Although it operates a couple of brick-and-mortar stores in New York City, 95% of its business is online.

You might think that jewelry might not be a big consumer priority while we’re social distancing, but Aurate is more affordable than most fine jewelry, while still being high-quality and long-lasting. Plus, it’s a fashion item that’s visible over Zoom.

“I’ve actually found that playing with jewelry, it’s been more meaningful when all that you’re showing is from the waist up on a Zoom call,” Washington said. “It has survived a lot of the life editing process. High-heeled shoes, not so much.”

Categories: Business News

Dear Sophie: Can an H-1B co-founder own a Delaware C Corp?

2020, November 19 - 12:15am
Sophie Alcorn Contributor Share on Twitter Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives. More posts by this contributor

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie:

My VC partner and I are working with 50/50 co-founders on their startup — let’s call it NewCo. We’re exploring pre-seed terms. One founder is on a green card and already works there. The other founder is from India and is working on an H-1B at a large tech company.

Can the H-1B co-founder lead this company? What’s the timing to get everything squared away? If we make the investment we want them to hit the ground running.

—Diligent in Daly City

Hello, Diligent!

Thanks for your questions. It’s always very exciting for me to hear about new companies launching and this has been the year for creativity as necessity is the mother of invention. The easiest path is for the founder with a green card to be president and CEO, and for the H-1B co-founder to be an employee working in a specialized technical role to qualify for an H-1B transfer from the current employer to the new startup. However, there are a few potential immigration issues to be aware of. Check out my recent podcast about due diligence in immigrant-founded startups.

The good news is that we can get the H-1B founder’s work transferred to NewCo, even though it’s a small, pre-revenue company. Presumably NewCo has a strong business plan. If you can make the investment so the company has the ability to pay the H-1B prevailing wage, we can usually effectuate the H-1B transfer for the founder in about 2-3 months.

It’s important to be aware of the proposed equity split between the founders. Simplest is if the founder on H-1B will own less than 50% of the company. If this individual must own the majority, some structural work can be done with a corporate attorney to set things up to qualify for an H-1B, but it’s more complicated.

This is because to qualify for an H-1B — whether it’s a transfer, initial petition or extension — the sponsoring employer must demonstrate that an employer-employee relationship exists between the company and the H-1B beneficiary. That means the employer must have the ability to hire, supervise and fire the H-1B beneficiary, and the H-1B beneficiary cannot own a controlling stake in the sponsoring company. For additional context, check out my podcast on H-1B Transfers for Startup Founders.

The co-founder who has the green card would probably need to be designated as the person who will have the authority to hire, supervise and fire the co-founder on the H-1B visa on the immigration forms. As always, I recommend working with an experienced startup immigration attorney who can present a strong legal argument for the H-1B as well as efficiently streamline the H-1B transfer process.

Categories: Business News

Grouparoo snares $3M seed to build open source customer data integration framework

2020, November 19 - 12:13am

Creating a great customer experience requires a lot of data from a variety of sources, and pulling that disparate data together has captured the attention of companies and big and small from Salesforce and Adobe to Segment and Klaviyo. Today, Grouparoo, a new startup from three industry vets is the next company up with an open source framework designed to make it easier for developers to access and make use of customer data.

The company announced a $3 million seed investment led by Eniac Ventures and Fuel Capital with participation from Hack VC, Liquid2, SCM Advisors and several unnamed angel investors.

Grouparoo CEO and co-founder Brian Leonard says that his company has created this open source customer data framework based on his own experience and difficulty getting customer data into the various tools he has been using since he was technical founder at TaskRabbit in 2008.

“We’re an open source data framework that helps companies easily sync their customer data from their database or warehouse to all of the SaaS tools where they need it. [After you] install it, you teach it about your customers, like what properties are important in each of those profiles. And then it allows you to segment them into the groups that matter,” Leonard explained.

This could be something like high earners in San Francisco along with names and addresses. Grouparoo can grab this data and transfer it to a marketing tool like Marketo or Zendesk and these tools could then learn who your VIP customers are.

Marketing automation platform Klaviyo scores $200M Series C on $4.15B valuation

For now the company is just the three founders Leonard, CTO Evan Tahler and COO Andy Jih, and while he wasn’t ready to commit to how many people he might hire in the next 12 months, he sees it being less than 10. At this early stage, the three co-founders have already been considering how to build a diverse and inclusive company, something he helped contribute to while he was at TaskRabbit.

“So, coming from [what we built at TaskRabbit] and starting something new, it’s important to all three of us to start [building a diverse company] from the beginning, and especially combined with this notion that we’re building something open source. We’ve been talking a lot about being open about our culture and what’s important to us,” he said.

TaskRabbit also comes into play in their investment where Fuel GP Leah Solivan was also founder of TaskRabbit. “Grouparoo is solving a real and acute issue that companies grapple with as they scale — giving every member of the team access to the data they need to drive revenue, acquire customers and improve real-time decision making. Brian, Andy and Evan have developed an elegant solution to an issue we experienced firsthand at TaskRabbit,” she said.

For now the company is taking an open source approach to build a community around the tool. It is still pre-revenue, but the plan is to find a way to build something commercial on top of the open source tooling. They are considering an open core license where they can add features or support or offer the tool as a service. Leonard says that is something they intend to work out in 2021.

Twilio’s $3.2B Segment acquisition is about helping developers build data-fueled apps

Categories: Business News

Bond Vet raises $17 million to be the CityMD of veterinary care

2020, November 19 - 12:01am

Bond Vet, the NYC-based tech-forward veterinary startup, has announced the close of a $17 million Series A financing. The round was led by Talisman Capital Partners.

The startup has clinics across NYC that are meant to fill the gap between veterinary ERs and the veterinary equivalent of a primary care physician, modeling the business after CityMD. Unlike some other new veterinary startups, Bond doesn’t require a membership to book an appointment. Pet parents can either walk in or make an appointment on the website or mobile app.

The startup also provides both urgent care and primary care, including regular vaccinations and check-ups.

Bond puts a particular focus on the design of the clinic itself, with high-friction floors so puppies don’t slip and examination tables that give pet parents the ability to remain close to their furry friend during procedures or examinations when appropriate.

The company also has technology on the back-end for vets and nurses that make the process of providing care more efficient (like with note taking, for example) so that they can spend more time with the patients.

Bond has its own telehealth platform as well, to let pet parents text with their vet before and after appointments, or potentially even replace an appointment and solve the issue remotely.

Cofounder and CEO Mo Punjani explained that the efficiencies built in to Bond Vet allow the company to pass on savings to customers. While primary care services are on par with other vets, according to Punjani, emergency services can be rendered at a much lower cost than a traditional veterinary ER.

Pet spending is set to top $100 billion next year, according to the American Pet Products Association, as millennials opt to use higher-quality products for their animals. Startups across the pet ecosystem have capitalized on this new trend, and Bond Vet is among them.

The Bond Vet team, which includes in-clinic staff and HQ, is about 100 people, and 80 percent of employees are female.

Since launch in June of 2019, Bond has seen upwards of 15,000 unique pets in its clinics. The company plans to use the funding to keep building out its technology stack and expand its physical footprint, with plans to launch clinics in suburban areas next year.

Categories: Business News

Marissa Mayer’s startup launches its first official product, Sunshine Contacts

2020, November 18 - 11:00pm

Former Yahoo CEO and early Google employee Marissa Mayer’s startup Lumi Labs is today rebranding to Sunshine and releasing its first official product. Its new app, Sunshine Contacts, aims to be a better tool for organizing, updating and sharing contact information with others. In time, the company envisions a portfolio of consumer-facing applications that simplify common tasks in areas like events, organization, family sharing, scheduling and more.

Founded in 2018 by Mayer and fellow Yahoo and Google vet Enrique Muñoz Torres, Lumi Labs has been focused on using sophisticated technologies, like A.I., to improve the common applications people use every day.

Or, as Mayer puts it, “if technology can drive a car, how come it can’t just organize my contacts, make scheduling easier or do some things that seem a lot more straightforward?” She says the goal with Lumi Labs — or now Sunshine, as it’s called — is to make those everyday apps better and more frictionless.

The company last year released a small experiment that hinted at what was to come with Holiday Helper, a desktop app that helped users more easily put together their holiday mailing list.

That product was not fully fleshed out, however, and Mayer today characterizes it as more of an exercise or a warm up for the Sunshine team.

Image Credits: Sunshine

With the launch of Sunshine Contacts, the company is moving closer towards its goal of using modern technologies to improve mundane tasks.

The new app, at first glance, seems not unlike those introduced in years past with the similar goal of better organizing and updating a user’s contacts, like Mingle, Vignette, Humin, FullContact, Bump, CardFlick, Hashable, My Name is E, CardMunch, Brewster, or any of dozens of startups that once aimed to kill the business card or auto-update your address book.

While most of those early efforts are no more, alternative apps like Cardhop from Flexibits, for example, are still able to attract a loyal user base looking for an expanded feature and more improvements over built-in solutions, like Apple or Google’s own address books, for instance.

Sunshine Contacts’ approach to the market, meanwhile, isn’t just to attract users interested in improved functionality, but to eventually offer a suite of consumer services under the Sunshine brand.

Image Credits: Sunshine

The app itself seems a little underwhelming in terms of its design, a callback perhaps to the Google aesthetic of things that work, but aren’t very pretty.

Sunshine Contacts works by pulling in data, with permission, from your iPhone contacts and from Google Contacts. In then tries to expand upon the basic information these imports offer by identifying your contact’s place of business, if not available, finding their LinkedIn profile, autocompleting missing information, looking up addresses, adding profile pictures, analyzing phone numbers to label them as work or cell, for example, and more. The app can also help to deduplicate address with merges.

Image Credits: Sunshine

If you additionally give Sunshine Contacts access to your Gmail, it can scan the email signature lines in your inbox to further complete the address fields.

This, of course, isn’t a new concept. FullContact did this in years past, as did smaller startups. Services like Evercontact or SigParser offer similar solutions today. Meanwhile, apps like Rapportive popularized the idea of pulling in external data found on the web to present a more detailed view of your email contacts. (The founder has since moved on to expand upon that original concept with Superhuman, a full email client with tons of other bells and whistles.)

When reaching out to a contact, Sunshine Contacts works a little like a personal CRM, by offering you useful context about your relationship, including your most recent email correspondence. You can also share your contact information easily with other Sunshine users by way of its proximity detection data, but this would only be useful if the app got critical mass.

Image Credits: Sunshine

Given that Sunshine Contact’s feature set is not exactly breaking new ground, Sunshine Contacts will need to try to impress on how well it’s able to perform the tasks at hand.

“I think that the artificial intelligence that we’ve deployed in the app really comes through when you look at the quality,” explains Mayer. For example, she says, other apps’ approach to deduplicating contacts is often fairly basic — only recognizing that there were two “Adam Smiths,” but not digging into the details to realize they were different people.

“They don’t take a confidence interval and signal and evidence-based approach,” Mayer says. “So I think you’ll see the A.I. in the in the quality of the merges, the quality of things like name completion, and nickname identification. We’ve done a bunch of things that I think are quite smart and are better than some of the other things that we’ve seen. I also think that our integration with location is particularly innovative,” she adds.

That is, Sunshine Contacts can access a user’s location — again, with permission — to make further inferences about who a user is spending time with more frequently or to make exchanging contacts between two Sunshine Contacts users easier when they’re meeting in person.

Image Credits: Sunshine

But with all the app’s requests for user data — address books, email integration, location data — Sunshine has an uphill battle in terms of gaining user trust after years of being burned by tech companies that promised conveniences only to gather large data stores of personal data for more nefarious purposes than just making life easier.

To address this issue, Sunshine is offering a privacy pledge where it commits to data security practices and promises to never sell user data.

“We take a very strong stance that this data is not and will never be for sale in any shape or form, says Torres. “So, you’re giving us the data for the purpose of making your product experience essentially better and that is the only purpose that we’re going to be using it for,” he continues. “We don’t sell it in aggregate form and individual forum we don’t target advertising based on it. In fact we don’t have any advertising as part of the app,” Torres notes.

Users can also opt in only to the features they want to use. If they don’t want to share location, for instance, they can simply deny the permission.

Instead, Sunshine’s business model will be a direct-to-consumer freemium model, though for now the Sunshine Contacts app is fully free. As the company rolls out additional offerings in the suite, it will opt to monetize each app in the way that’s most suitable — for instance, by making some basic functionality free, then offering paid upgrades to a larger set of features.

The startup raised a $20M seed round in May 2020 from inside and outside investors, including Felicis Ventures, Unusual Ventures, WIN Ventures, as well as numerous angel investors.

The app is launching first on iOS (iOS 11 or higher) on an invite-only basis in the U.S. A web version will later follow as will support for international markets.

Categories: Business News

Welcome raises $12 million to be the ‘Ritz Carlton for event platforms’

2020, November 18 - 11:00pm

On the heels of Hopin’s $125 million funding round, a newcomer in the virtual events space is gaining steam. Welcome, led by co-founder and CEO Roberto Ortiz, is positioning itself as the “Ritz Carlton for virtual events,” Ortiz told me. Today, it’s announcing a $12 million Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins with participation from Y Combinator, Kapor Capital and Webb Investor Network.

“There’s a land grab opportunity in virtual events,” Ortiz said. “What Covid has done is made 2030 2020. What was going to happen in 2030 happened in 2020. Everyone has been forced into this virtual environment.”

It’s that environment that led Ortiz and his co-founders to pivot from a startup that connected restaurants and food wholesalers to a virtual events startup. While today is the official launch date, Welcome has already hosted events for a handful of clients, including Brooks Winery, Freely in Hope and Elevate 2020.

Welcome features a control room for event producers, breakout rooms for attendees, a green room for speakers, white-label branding, networking, audience question & answer functionality and more. Welcome also offers event producers the ability to hold hybrid events that are both online and in person.

Image Credits: Screenshot/Welcome demo for TechCrunch

Welcome is targeting enterprise customers for annual contracts in the five-figure range, Ortiz said. He didn’t disclose the exact pricing, but says Welcome is likely one of the more expensive virtual events platforms on the market today.

Although Welcome is currently going after the top end of the market, Ortiz said it will be easy to go down market — similar to how Tesla began as a super high-end brand that made its way to offering a more affordable car.

“Welcome is the perfect combination for Kapor Capital: cutting edge technology that is gap-closing or democratizing, a founder whose lived experience points in the direction of giving back, of making time for mentoring, of having the product used for good, and a founding team committed to building a diverse workforce and inclusive culture,” Kapor Capital Partner Freada Kapor Klein said in a statement to TechCrunch.

Obviously, the virtual events space has heat up thanks to the pandemic. But Welcome differentiates itself from its competitors by its ease of set up and quality of the final outcome.

“One person could throw an event that feels like an Apple keynote,” Ortiz said. “That can be done on our platform with one person. With any other platform, you’d need an AV crew to pull something off like that. Welcome gives you the ability to scale virtual events without compromising quality.”

Categories: Business News

Rapid Robotics raises $5.5M for pre-programmed manufacturing robots

2020, November 18 - 11:00pm

Bay Area-based Rapid Robotics today announced it has raised $5.5 million in seed funding in a round led by Greycroft and Bee Partners. The announcement comes during what has been a solid several months for robotics funding, and more and more companies are looking to automate workforces as the COVID-19 pandemic has ground a lot of productivity to a halt.

Manufacturing is one of the sectors of greatest interest on that front, as a business that can’t really afford to go on hiatus. That positions Rapid Robotics fairly well in the field. There are, of course, countless companies vying for a space in the massive industry.

Rapid’s primary value prop is in the training category. Getting robotics up and running in a factory can by an expensive and time-intensive process. The startup believes it has a unique offering with pre-programmed robotics that don’t require the same sort of training — and more or less work out to the box. On-board AI, meanwhile, assures that they’ll continue learning on the job, after they’re up and running.

The company’s primary robot is the Rapid Machine Operator, which factories can rent for around $25,000 a year. It features a six-joint robotic arm inside a safety work cell, computer vision and iPad for manual operation. It can perform a variety of manufacturing tasks, including part inspection, injection molding, pick-and-place and welding.

The company is pitching a potential return to U.S. manufacturing as a key selling point for the product. “Right now, billions of dollars of revenue are flowing offshore due to what I call ‘the automation gap’ for US contract manufacturers,” CEO Jordan Kretchmer said in a release. “The need to automate simple tasks is incredibly high, but the ability to do so has been out of reach for a vast majority of manufacturers. The Rapid Machine Operator is the first robotic solution to close that gap, making US manufacturers more competitive and supply chains more resilient.”

Bay Area-based Westec Plastics has been signed on as a customer.

Leading robotics VCs talk about where they’re investing

Categories: Business News

Build.security raises $6M for its authorization policy management platform

2020, November 18 - 11:00pm

Build.security, a Tel Aviv and Sunnyvale-based startup that aims to make it easier for developers to bake authorization policy management right into their applications, today announced a $6 million seed funding round led by cybersecurity-centric firm YL Ventures.

CrowdStrike CEO and co-founder George Kurtz also participated in this round, in addition to former Zscaler CISO Michael Sutton, former Bank of America Chief Security Scientist Sounil Yu, Fireglass co-founder Dan Amiga, Cynet CEO and co-founder Eyal Gruner and Hexadite co-founder Eran Barak. That’s an impressive group of angels who clearly believe that build.security is solving an important problem in the industry.

Founded by Amit Kanfer (CEO) and Dekel Braunstein (CTO), who have previous experience at Intel, Fireglass, Symantec, Cymmetria and other companies, the company wants to build the “first true platform for authorization” for developers — it’s basically policy-as-code, somewhat similar to how the likes of Pulumi and others are delivering on the promise of “infrastructure-as-code.” In addition to using code to declare policies, though, build.security also offers a drag-and-drop user experience.

At the core of build.security is an open-source project: Open Policy Agent, first developed by Styra.

Image Credits: build.security

At first glance, “authorization policy management” may not sound like the most exciting problem to solve. Authorization — unlike authentication — remains a problem that is mostly unsolved, though, and there are few enterprise-ready services available. That means developers — who are increasingly tasked with managing the security of their applications — are using a mix of policy engines and other tools which inevitably leads to errors and potential vulnerabilities.

“Authorization remains a big challenge for engineering teams,” Kanfer told me. “It’s a big challenge, because, taking into account attributes on identities, resources and context — and then combining all of them together into a concise policy that’s easily managed and scaled — that’s a pretty mind-blowing task. Just to model the hierarchies and the roles and permissions and relationships between them. It’s not an easy task.”

And as Kanfer also noted, as enterprises move to a microservices model for their application development, the complexity here only increases. Today’s solutions, however, aren’t flexible enough to solve this problem. “The list of permissions can change according to multiple factors,” he explained. “It could be identity, the time of the day, working from home or from the office. Is it a trusted device? Is it a workday or weekend? What is the relationship between you and the resource?”

Image Credits: build.security

The company offers its service both as a cloud service and on-premises solution. Currently, the company’s focus is on containers and the company uses a Kubernetes sidecar container that fetches the configurations and policies from the build.security control plane. The company offers SDKs and plugins for many popular programming languages and frameworks (think Python, Node.js and .NET). The service integrates with all of your standard identity providers and other API-based services.

“Build.security’s innovation is an incredible win for the developer community — they’ve made authorization easy,” said John Brennan, partner at YL Ventures and build.security board member. “We’re excited by Amit and Dekel’s unique plug-and-play approach to API and function-level authorization, as well as the breadth of visibility their control plane offers. Their approach will enable developers and enterprises to build secure software at scale.”

Pulumi brings support for more languages to its infrastructure-as-code platform

Categories: Business News

OpsLevel raises $5M to fix DevOps

2020, November 18 - 11:00pm

The term “DevOps” has been rendered meaningless and developers still don’t have access to the right tools to put the overall idea into practice, the team behind DevOps startup OpsLevel argues. The company, which was co-founded by John Laban and Kenneth Rose, two of PagerDuty’s earliest employees, today announced that it has raised a $5 million seed funding round, led by Vertex Ventures. S28 Capital, Webb Investment Network and Union Capital also participated in this round, as well as a number of angels, including the three co-founders of PagerDuty .

“[PagerDuty] was an important part of the DevOps movement. Getting engineers on-call was really important for DevOps, but on-call and getting paged about incidents and things, it’s very reactive in nature. It’s all about fixing incidents as quickly as possible,” said Laban. “Ken [Rose] and I saw an opportunity to help companies take a more proactive stance. Nobody really wants to have any downtime or any security breaches in the first place. They want to prevent them before they happen.”

Image Credits: OpsLevel

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With that mission in mind, the team set out to bring engineering organizations back to the roots of DevOps by giving those teams ownership over their services and creating what Rose called a “you build it, you own it” culture. Service ownership, he noted, is something the team regularly sees companies struggle with. When teams move to microservices or even serverless architectures for their systems, it quickly becomes unclear who owns what and, as a result, you end up with orphaned services that nobody is maintaining. The natural result of that is security and reliability issues. And at the same time, because nobody knows which systems already exist, other teams reinvent the wheel and rebuild the same service to solve their own problems.

“We’ve underinvested in tools to make DevOps actually work,” the team says in today’s announcement. “There’s a lot we still need to build to help engineering teams adopt service ownership and unlock the full power of DevOps.”

So at the core of OpsLevel is what the team calls a “service ownership platform,” starting with a catalog of the services that an engineering organization is currently running.

Image Credits: OpsLevel

“What we’re trying to do is take back the meaning of DevOps,” said Laban. “We believe it’s been rendered meaningless and we wanted to refocus it on service ownership. We’re going to be investing heavily on building out our product, and then working with our customers to get them to really own their services and get really down to solving that problem.”

Among the companies OpsLevel is already working with are Segment, Zapier, Convoy and Under Armour. As the team noted, its service becomes most useful once a company runs somewhere around 20 or 30 different services. Before that, a wiki or spreadsheet is often enough to manage them, but at that point, those systems tend to break.

OpsLevel gives them different onramps to start cataloging their services. If they prefer to use a “config-as-code” approach, they can use those YAML files as part of their existing Git workflows. But OpsLevel offers APIs that teams can plug into their various systems if they already have existing service-creating workflows.

The company’s funding round closed in late September. The pandemic, the team said, didn’t really hinder its fundraising efforts, something I’ve lately heard from a lot of companies (though the ones I talk to obviously tend to be the ones that recently raised money).

“The reason why [we raised] is because we wanted to really invest in building out our product,” Laban said. “We’ve been getting this traction with our customers and we really wanted to double down and build out a lot of product and invest into our go-to-market team as well and really wanted to accelerate things.”

Categories: Business News

Cloudbolt announces $35M Series B debt/equity investment to help manage hybrid cloud

2020, November 18 - 11:00pm

Cloudbolt, a Bethesda, MD startup that helps companies manage hybrid cloud environments, announced a $35 million Series B investment today. It was split between $15 million in equity investment and $20 Million in debt.

Insight Partners provided the equity side of the equation, while Hercules Capital and Bridge Bank supplied the venture debt. The company has now raised over $61 million in equity and debt, according to Crunchbase data.

CEO Jeff Kukowski says that his company helps customers with cloud and DevOps management including cost control, compliance and security. “We help [our customers] take advantage of the fact that most organizations are already hybrid cloud, multi cloud, and/or multi tool. So you have all of this innovation happening in the world, and we make it easier for them to take advantage of it,” he said.

As he sees it, the move to cloud and DevOps, which was supposed to simplify everything has actually created new complexity, and the tools his company sells are designed to help companies reduce some of that added complexity. What they do is provide a way to automate, secure and optimize their workloads, regardless of the tools or approach to infrastructure that they are using.

New Harness product lets engineering teams monitor cloud spending in real time

The company closed the funding round at the end of last quarter and put it to work with a couple of acquisitions — Kumolus and SovLabs — to help accelerate and fill in the road map. Kumulos, which was founded in 2011 and raised $1.7 million, according to Crunchbase, really helps Cloudbolt extend its vision from managing on premises to the public cloud.

Solvlabs was an early stage startup working on a very specific problem creating a framework for extending VMware automation.

Cloudbolt currently has 170 employees. While Kukowski didn’t want to get specific about the number of additional employees he might be adding to that in the next 12 months, he says that as he does, he thinks about diversity in three ways.

“One is just pure education. So we as a company regularly meet and educate on issues around inclusion, social justice and diversity. We also recruit with with those ideas in mind. And then we also have a standing committee within the company that continues to look at issues not only for discussion, but quite frankly for investment in terms of time and fundraising,” he said.

Kukowski says that going remote because of COVID has allowed the company to hire from anywhere, but he still looks forward to a time when he can meet face-to-face with his employees and customers, and sees that as alway being part of his company’s culture.

Cloudbolt was founded in 2012 and has around 200 customers. Kukowski says that the company is growing between 40 and 50% year over year, although he wouldn’t share specific revenue numbers.

HashiCorp to offer managed versions of its developer tools starting with Consul

Categories: Business News

Astroscale sets March 2021 for first commercial orbital debris removal demonstration

2020, November 18 - 10:26pm

Japanese startup Astroscale is aiming for March 2021 for a launch of its first-ever active orbital debris removal mission. This demonstration of its technology, which it hopes to use to help ensure that low-Earth orbit becomes a sustainable environment for commercial activity as it becomes increasingly crowded thanks to the rapid pace of new spacecraft launches.

This demonstration mission, which is called the “End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration” (ELSA-d for short) will take off from Kazakhstan, launched via a Russian Soyuz rocket. The actual demonstration itself will see Astroscale’s payload, which includes both a ‘servicer’ (which represents the actual debris removal component) and a ‘client’ (which represents any potential satellite or space junk that Astroscale might eventually be tasked with removing).

The servicer unit will use magnets to ‘capture’ the client, docking with it multiple times to show its efficacy, while the client remains stationary and while it emulates an end-over-end tumbling motion that is common for a lot of defunct orbital debris. The purpose of the mission is to show that Astroscale’s technology for seeking out and finding targets for removal, as well as proper target identity verification and docking/release procedures all work as the startup intended.

Low-Earth orbit space junk removal is half of Astroscale’s approach to making space more sustainable for commercial and research activities – the other is on-orbit servicing of geostationary satellites, which tend to be larger and more expensive and occupy an orbital band deeper out in space. The company recently acquired assets of an Israeli company focused on that endeavor in order to bolster that parallel mission.

Astroscale expands into geostationary satellite life extension with new acquisition

Categories: Business News

Malaysia-based inventory management platform Food Market Hub raises $4 million from Go-Ventures, SIG

2020, November 18 - 6:29pm

Food Market Hub co-founders Anthony See and Shayna Teh

Many restaurants still rely on spreadsheets to track their inventory of produce, meat and other ingredients. But using manual methods often results in food wastage and higher costs. Malaysia-based Food Market Hub is a cloud-based platform that connects food and beverage (F&B) outlets directly to suppliers, making it easier to communicate and manage orders. The startup announced today it has closed a Series A round of $4 million from Go-Ventures, whose cornerstone investor is Gojek, and SIG.

This brings Food Market Hub’s total funding to $4.7 million so far. Founded in 2017 by Anthony See and Shayna Teh, Food Market Hub is currently used by about 2,000 food and beverage outlets in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The platform handles about $200 million in purchase orders on an annual basis and is used by well-known brands like Din Tai Fung, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Putien.

Food Market Hub automates purchasing and inventory tracking by connecting food and beverage outlets with central kitchens and suppliers. Orders can be placed through the platform or by email and WhatsApp. The platform also uses AI-based tech to forecast purchasing needs by analyzing past data.

Part of Food Market Hub’s Series A will be used to expand into Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Teh told TechCrunch that the company chose those three countries because they are the largest food and beverage markets in Southeast Asia, and share many similarities with Malaysia.

“The F&B sector does not use digitized procurement and inventory management solutions, which leads to inefficiency and significant added costs,” she said.

Several other startups focused on digitizing the food supply chain in those countries have also recently raised venture capital funding, including Thailand’s FreshKet, Indonesia’s Eden Farm and TaniHub, and Singapore-based Glife.

Freshket lands $3 million Series A led by Openspace to streamline Thailand’s food supply chain

Teh said Food Market Hub doesn’t view those companies as competitors, because they focus on supplying produce and other ingredients to restaurants. Instead, Food Market Hub’s core business “is a communication platform that allows restaurants to communicate with and place orders to their existing suppliers,” she said.

“In fact, our customers will likely use our platform to place orders to these companies in the future,” she added.

Food Market Hub’s target clientele include restaurants that are growing into chains or franchises, which means manual purchase orders and inventory management quickly becomes inefficient. Before they started using Food Market Hub, many clients relied on Excel spreadsheets and notebooks to track inventory level and placed orders through phone calls, emails or WhatsApp, Teh said.

The company claims close to zero churn, with clients sticking to the platform unless their restaurant shuts down. Unfortunately, many food and beverage businesses have been forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including some of Food Market Hub’s customers. On the other hand, the pandemic underscored the importance of controlling inventory closely to manage costs.

“Restaurant owners and managers embraced technology at a much faster rate than ever before and we have been a beneficiary,” said Teh. “We have seen record demand for our products in recent months and are onboarding hundreds of outlets each month and expect this to only accelerate going forward.”

YC-backed Eden Farm wants to cut out the middlemen between farmers and restaurants in Indonesia

Categories: Business News

Resellee wants to become the Pinduoduo of Southeast Asia

2020, November 18 - 3:12pm

Launched in the Philippines, social commerce startup Resellee wants to recreate the success of Pinduoduo, one of China’s fastest-growing e-commerce companies, in Southeast Asia. A major part of Resellee’s business is grocery deliveries, including fresh produce, and it has struck partnerships with the government and farmers’ groups to meet demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The startup announced this week it has raised $1 million in seed funding from Mintech Enterprises and Hofan Capital to build its technology and expand into new countries. Resellee was co-founded last year by chief executive officer Marc Concio, former head of e-commerce at Voyager Innovations, parent company of PayMaya, one of the Philippines’ largest online payment services.

Concio told TechCrunch that there are currently about 40,000 resellers on Resellee’s platform, and each has an average of about 20 buyers. Resellee sellers typically make about P5,000, or US $100, a month.

Like Pinduoduo, India’s Meesho and other social commerce platforms, Reselllee does not require sellers to carry their own inventory. Instead, it maintains a network of suppliers, including manufacturers and farmers, and lists available products on a marketplace. Then sellers chose what they want to add to their stores, which they market to potential buyers through their social media networks.

Resellee offers a wide range of products, including electronics and fashion items, but it currently focuses on grocery deliveries and prepaid credit for mobile phones and online games, which are all in high demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Concio’s interest in social commerce was piqued after observing Pinduoduo’s astronomical growth in China, where it became the second-largest e-commerce company in the country less than five years after launching in 2015. Pinduoduo’s group buying model leverages users’ existing social networks, especially on WeChat, to pull together buyers for products at discounted prices, and has done well in smaller cities and rural areas.

Pinduoduo cements position as China’s second-largest ecommerce player

“Resellee hopes to learn from this and be the Pinduoduo of Southeast Asia by pioneering social e-commerce and group buying in the Philippines, then expanding to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, where social commerce has not started yet or is still in its early stage,” Concio said.

Social commerce is well-positioned to take off in the Philippines for several reasons, he added. One is the enormous amount of time spent of social media platforms there: four hours per day, versus two and a half hours in India, and two hours in China. The Philippines has one of the youngest median ages in Asia, around 23.5 years old, and that is the demographic most likely to use social commerce, Concio said.

Another reason is that many people want to start their own businesses, or need to make side income, especially during the pandemic, but have little access to working capital. Since Resellee’s sellers don’t need to carry their own inventory and can rely on the platform’s supply chain and logistics network, that means they can launch a store without spending any money. Most of the work they need to do is convincing people on their social media networks, like Facebook or Viber, to buy from their Resellee stores.

“We believe the same hypergrowth for social commerce will happen in the Philippines given all of the above, with Resellee pioneering both social e-commerce and group buying here,” Concio said.

Resellee’s competitors include some of the biggest e-commerce platforms in the region, like Lazada, Shopee and EZBuy, which have added social commerce features. Concio said one of Resellee’s advantages is its focus on helping sellers make money, and partnerships with farmers groups and the Philippine government. This includes a project to build an online platform that will aggregate supply information from farmer’s cooperatives across the country, and match them to Resellee’s sellers and buyers, eliminating middle men in the supply chain.

Resellee initially outsourced its logistics, but Concio said its deliveries were not prioritized by carriers, which led to customer complaints, especially for fresh produce. As a result, Resellee set up its own logistics arm, called Resellee Riders, in Metro Manila, where most of its grocery customers are. This enabled Resellee to launch next-day deliveries in the area this week (orders in other places are still carried out by third-party logistics providers).

While Resellee accepts online payments, including online wallets and bank cards, most buyers prefer to use its cash on delivery option. Sellers make money through commissions, which they can transfer to their online wallets or bank accounts. Resellee’s platform also gives them the option of using the funds to buy discounted mobile or gaming prepaid loads, or top-ups, which they can also offer in their stores. Along with fresh produce, prepaid loads are one of the key parts of Resellee’s business strategy. The platform guarantees the highest commissions and discounts for mobile prepaid loads from some of the Philippines’ top providers, including Smart, Sun and TalknText.

“The mobile prepaid market is a US $4 billion annual market versus total e-commerce in the Philippines of only US $2.3 billion,” Concio said. “This is one of our key strategies to own the mobile prepaid market, other than fruits and vegetables like Pinduoduo.”

The incredible rise of Pinduoduo, China’s newest force in e-commerce

Categories: Business News

AI-tool maker Seldon raises £7.1M Series A from AlbionVC and Cambridge Innovation Capital

2020, November 18 - 9:01am

Seldon is a U.K. startup that specializes in the rarified world of development tools to optimize machine learning. What does this mean? Well, dear reader, it means that the “AI” that companies are so fond of trumpeting does actually end up working.

It has now raised a £7.1 million Series A round co-led by AlbionVC and Cambridge Innovation Capital . The round also includes significant participation from existing investors Amadeus Capital Partners and Global Brain, with follow-on investment from other existing shareholders. The £7.1 million funding will be used to accelerate R&D and drive commercial expansion, take Seldon Deploy — a new enterprise solution — to market and double the size of the team over the next 18 months.

More accurately, Seldon is a cloud-agnostic machine learning (ML) deployment specialist which works in partnership with industry leaders such as Google, Red Hat, IBM and Amazon Web Services.

Key to its success is that its open-source project Seldon Core has more than 700,000 models deployed to date, drastically reducing friction for users deploying ML models. The startup says its customers are getting productivity gains of as much as 92% as a result of utilizing Seldon’s product portfolio.

Alex Housley, CEO and founder of Seldon speaking to TechCrunch explained that companies are using machine learning across thousands of use cases today, “but the model actually only generates real value when it’s actually running inside a real-world application.”

“So what we’ve seen emerge over these last few years are companies that specialize in specific parts of the machine learning pipeline, such as training version control features. And in our case we’re focusing on deployment. So what this means is that organizations can now build a fully bespoke AI platform that suits their needs, so they can gain a competitive advantage,” he said.

In addition, he said Seldon’s open-source model means that companies are not locked-in: “They want to avoid locking as well they want to use tools from various different vendors. So this kind of intersection between machine learning, DevOps and cloud-native tooling is really accelerating a lot of innovation across enterprise and also within startups and growth-stage companies.”

Nadine Torbey, an investor at AlbionVC, added: “Seldon is at the forefront of the next wave of tech innovation, and the leadership team are true visionaries. Seldon has been able to build an impressive open-source community and add immediate productivity value to some of the world’s leading companies.”

Vin Lingathoti, partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital, said: “Machine learning has rapidly shifted from a nice-to-have to a must-have for enterprises across all industries. Seldon’s open-source platform operationalizes ML model development and accelerates the time-to-market by eliminating the pain points involved in developing, deploying and monitoring machine learning models at scale.”

Categories: Business News

Biden’s infrastructure plans could boost startups

2020, November 18 - 4:59am

As President-elect Joe Biden readies his transition team and sets the agenda for his first 100 days in office, startups can expect to see some movement on long-stalled infrastructure initiatives that could mean big boosts to their business.

Infrastructure is high on the list of priorities of the incoming Biden Administration as the former vice president hopes to make good on his campaign promise to “build back better.”

American infrastructure has been crumbling for decades without significant investment from the federal government, and much of what will be replaced will also be upgraded with new technology, according to people familiar with the Biden plan.

A Biden presidency doesn’t need a Green New Deal to make progress on climate change

That means tech companies focused on next-generation telecommunications and utility infrastructure, transportation, housing and construction tech around energy efficiency could see new dollars pour in over the next four years.

“Infrastructure and build out of the clean energy economy … doesn’t necessarily mean large wind or large solar projects. It could mean advanced metering … it can be new engine technologies,” said Dan Goldman, a managing partner at Clean Energy Ventures. “We think that that can be a huge opportunity for job creation … not only putting people back to work but putting people back to work in high quality jobs.”

And there’s a willingness to encourage these infrastructure projects in less partisan ways in states like Massachusetts, Virginia and Florida, which are actively building out electric vehicle infrastructure and renewable energy projects, Goldman said.

While the federal government will ultimately be distributing the cash, startups can expect to see the spending actually come from municipalities and state governments, which often have a better understanding of local needs and where the money should go.

Next-generation energy infrastructure

The electrification of everything — a component of any zero-carbon movement — requires significant upgrades to existing power infrastructure. That means everything from systems management technologies to distribution facilities to ways to store power that can be moved on to the grid.

“Without that infrastructure investment it gets quite challenging,” said Abe Yokell, a co-founder and managing partner of Congruent Ventures. 

He pointed to large-scale energy storage technologies as one solution, but management systems for utilities will be another area of interest.

Those infrastructure initiatives will likely mean good things for battery companies like Form Energy, which signed its first major contract with Great River Energy earlier this year; or Antora and Malta, which store energy as heat; or Quidnet, which has a pumped hydroelectric play for large-scale energy storage by pumping water into the gaps between rocks underground that creates pressure and can force water back up through a generator.

Other large-scale energy storage companies working on developing and installing batteries could benefit as well. That means good things for Tesla, which has a few major battery installs under its belt, and Fluence, which manages and operates big install projects.

Natel Energy, another startup working on energy storage (and generation) using hydropower, could also find its technology in the mix, according to company founder, Gia Schneider.

Schneider sees three potential pitches for her company’s technologies. “Climate change is water change,” she said. “We have a bucket in energy, a bucket of stuff in environmental and a bucket of stuff in working lands.”

Categories: Business News

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